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Issue 6.1

REVIEW

iWork '08

Issue: 6.1 (November/December 2007)
Author: Brad Rhine and Dave Mancuso
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 6,702
Starting Page Number: 8
Article Number: 6102
Related Web Link(s):

http://www.apple.com/iwork

Full text of article...

Apple released iWork a few years ago as a word processor (Pages) and presentation tool (Keynote). The first releases were workable, but clunky and horsepower-hungry (notably in Keynote's case). Each of the iWorks applications featured the ability to read and save in Microsoft Office format, making it more attractive to many users. Second releases followed in time, and Keynote gained a devoted following. Pages gained a few converts, and it was rumored that Apple was developing a spreadsheet application to round out the suite, providing a true alternative to Microsoft Office on Macintosh.

Enter iWork '08. Both Pages and Keynote were upgraded, and Numbers was unveiled as iWork's new spreadsheet program. The suite ostensibly replaced Microsoft Office and is a Universal Binary, something Office users must wait for until January. In addition, iWork applications read the new Office 2007 file formats and saved Office 97-2003 formats, something that requires a special converter application from Microsoft for Office 2004.

Pages

Pages in the past arguably suffered from a focus on page layout abilities. Its word processing was workable, but for some it didn't feel as good a word processing tool as other applications. Some argued that writing can be accomplished with better tools anyway, such as TextWrangler, BBEdit, or TextMate. Others argued that Pages "got out of your way" when writing, so it surpassed Word's intrusive nature regardless.

Pages '08 makes these arguments unnecessary. Die hards may still use text editors for most writing, but Pages is now easy to uses as a word processor. More than that, it's easy to create quick documents. Every feature of your page is easy to control with the Inspector (and you can make multiple Inspectors if you'd like, too). Page layout remains a strength of the program. It was incredibly fast and easy to create tip sheets and help documents, replete with graphics and illustrations. Pages could be a great resource for RB help system and documentation creation.

Pages opened Word documents with ease. Any issues with conversion are noted in a Review window so that you can deal with them knowledgeably. After a few conversions, we generally ignored the Reviews. Exporting to Microsoft Word was easy as well (although not as easy as a Save As option could have been). The exported documents looked good back in Word.

Numbers

As a straight spreadsheet tool, Numbers certainly suffices. getting up and running is easy with the application. It easily opens Excel spreadsheets, managing multiple worksheets with aplomb. Excel users have a bit of a learning curve, though. Things that are easy with Excel take a few more steps in Numbers. Filling cells and working with formulas isn't always as easy as in Excel. In some cases, features are simply missing, such as Numbers' inability to rotate text 90 degrees in cells and a few standard Excel functions.

Numbers' interface is different. Icons on the left side of a workbook denote worksheets, and tables are given their own icons as children of worksheets. The interface works, although it would be nice to have a small icon view for spreadsheets, and it would be convenient to collapse all table disclosure triangles at once with a modifier key.

Another key difference between Numbers and Excel is in the charts and graphs that the two rivals produce. In Excel, if you don't want your graphs to look like Excel generated them (and let's face it: Excel's default formatting for graphs is pretty basic and utilitarian), it takes quite a bit of elbow grease and repetitive clicking. In Numbers, they are, in a word, stunning. It's almost trivially easy to generate graphs that are slick and sexy. All the same graphics capabilities found in Pages and Keynote are available to you in Numbers as well.

The default styles built into Numbers are very nice, as well. In general, they feature muted colors and modern fonts, which typically makes it a matter of a single click to create great looking spreadsheets.

Also of note, it's worth checking out the templates that come with Numbers. They really show off some of the program's capabilities that may not be readily apparent as you experiment with it.

The next version of Numbers will have a definite feature improvement list. It will be interesting to see which features are prioritized in the release, and it wouldn't be out of line to expect feature upgrades in a point release soon. Regardless, Numbers is an excellent first release.

Keynote

What can be said about Keynote? This version is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Former PowerPoint junkies who have already made the switch will be rewarded with more themes as well as increased presentation choices. Current PowerPoint junkies will want to take a serious look at Keynote. It's hard to quantify, but everything just looks better in Keynote, from crisper text to softer drop shadows.

Interestingly, the MacBreak podcast noted that the Keynote video tutorial serves as a master's thesis on how to do a Keynote presentation. For that matter, all the iWork tutorials and help are well worth checking out.

Conclusion

It's the true definition of the "right tool for the right job." The iWork applications get out of your way while making your work look better. The cost of the suite is incredibly low compared to Microsoft Office. For value, it truly challenges the Microsoft team developing Office, and for workflow/interface, it trumps the OpenOffice/NeoOffice developers as well.

End of article.